I’ve seen over these last few years an increasing number of people being taught that spirituality means responding lovingly to every situation (not that anyone can define what spirituality actually means). They’re taught that the right way is to accept everything in life with gratitude and love, and remain positive with their responses regardless of the situation. Yet, I’ve also spoken to many who feel somewhat imprisoned by this, almost as if their mouths have been taped shut, who have begun to feel that it’s somehow wrong to have any fiery emotion, or any negative opinion about anything whatsoever. The moment they do, many seem to descend out of the woodwork pointing out how they are somehow lacking in their personal awareness, suggesting that everything in life should be ‘love and light’…
I have a slightly different take on it…
I remember a several years ago being booked to speak at a large spiritual event, along with many other personal development and spiritual teachers. I was staying overnight at an on-sight hotel, along with many of the event’s attendees and speakers. When I woke in the morning, I discovered there was no hot water in my en-suite bathroom. I checked the showers in the communal bathrooms in the corridor, and they were cold too. Yet folk were taking showers regardless. I went to reception to report the problem, but it was closed, so I left a note. In my room there was an emergency number for the night manager, so I gave him a call. I had woken him up. None of the other 30 or so people in the hotel had called him, even though his number was in every room and most of them had already had a shower.
On chatting to them later that day, they said they had gone ahead and taken cold showers, because they believed that this was a test for them, something they had to accept lovingly, without any internal response. No one wanted to be seen to be complaining, because spirituality means that you don’t complain about anything. Instead you focus wholly on the positive and remain unconditionally accepting of everything. There was also slight bemusement that I had not accepted the same cold fate without question.
The night manager discovered that the hot water boiler had broken, and so called an emergency plumber out to fix it, thereby ensuring that the next set of guests had hot water. I then got on with taking a cold shower, knowing that I had done all I could.
It really got me thinking though, because I felt somewhat judged for speaking up, but that in itself confused me. Because isn’t spirituality also meant to be the absence of judgement? Mmmm… very confusing!
I learned a great deal from that experience. Mainly that when we cocoon our responses so as to effectively not respond to any situation, that it can often mean that things don’t get done, action isn’t taken, nothing changes, which can in some situations have an adverse ripple effect on others. In this case, the guests following on would have had no hot water, and the hotel would have received many more complaints.
I had to ask myself… just how authentic is it to cocoon yourself into a place of permanent positivity, unconditional lovingness and acceptance? Is there an element of it based on fear, almost a forced effort of trying to be seen as someone spiritual? Why in reality is it considered so wrong to have an honest response on something which isn’t altogether positive? Isn’t this in essence denying part of what it means to be human?
I remember being badly bullied by one particular girl at school. I tried to ignore it, to remain strong, but I was only a teenager. I tried talking to her, but that seemed to make her want to bully me even more. One day, when I’d truly had enough, I plucked up the courage to stand strong before her, and I screamed at her to leave me alone in exactly the same energy she had been doing to me. I was shaking inside, because it took every ounce of courage I had. She backed down instantly. I realised that day that her own language was the only one she understood. Had I chosen to accept her bullying, I would have been teaching her that it was absolutely fine, and I and others would have continued suffering her taunts as a result. She never bullied me again. She never bullied again, period. In fact, she became friendly. I guess she needed to know what it felt like from her victim’s perspective. She gained respect for me, and I lost my fear because I found my voice. I realised that my lesson on that occasion was in finding my courage, and not in accepting everything, no matter what.
It was very liberating for me. I felt free. I never feared bullies again after that day, because I knew I had the strength to stand up to them when I needed to.
I remember another occasion, when I was chatting with someone who considered themselves very spiritual, about how angry I felt when I could see blatant mind-manipulation techniques being used to con people into buying certain personal development products. Her response was that I should let it go, that it was their journey to go through, not mine. She told me to pick up the mirror and ask myself what it was in me that felt such a strong desire to say something. She was clear that the real issue was with my own response to it, and not the subject of my frustration.
I had to ask her then, that if I walked past a shop and saw a cashier being held at gunpoint, should I apply that same philosophy – that it’s simply the cashier’s journey, perhaps his or her time to be injured or die, something they needed to go through and learn, and that I shouldn’t intervene by doing anything, including calling the Police? Should I instead just cocoon myself in a little bubble of love and light?
She wasn’t able to respond.
I believe Einstein summed it up beautifully: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
I think for me, one of the most vital elements of my journey has been in learning when to accept unconditionally, and when to stand up, speak up and take action. I truly believe that both are required for healthy spirituality. I actually believe that sitting back in a haze of acceptance at all times when things are clearly not right is not a loving or spiritually advanced way of being. Imagine if Gandhi or Martin Luther King had done that?
Is there possibly even an element of selfishness about it? Because in all honesty, I could actually choose to sit back and do nothing and ‘bliss’ myself through everything if I wanted to. But if that did cause a negative ripple effect on others because I hadn’t spoken up when someone needed to, how exactly would Karma work in my favour then?
So how do we know when to take appropriate action and when to walk away peacefully?
By listening to your intuition, then figuring out which of the following applies.
- If I can genuinely walk away from a situation with peacefulness in my heart, then acceptance is the right thing to do. If I don’t feel a sense of peacefulness by doing so, then it’s a signal for me to check in with myself on:
- Whether it’s something that pricks my ego because I secretly identify with it, a trigger, in which case, it’s definitely my own stuff to work through.
- Or whether it’s something I clearly need to take action on and courageously share my truth about.
With practise I’ve learned to master number 1, and from there to identify the difference between 2 and 3 three clearly and easily. I can take action when it feels right, and I can walk away peacefully when it feels right. I also recognise my ego triggers and pick up the mirror. This has come from observing and learning about my own ego in depth, by being honest with myself about the fact that I have one, by observing how it behaves, facing it head on, and then not icing over everything with positivity, love and light just for the sake of it. Instead, I actually listen to what my intuition is trying to tell me, then take action on that. The result is that I am in acceptance of myself, and function in a way which is authentic for me.
Suffice to say, if I react to everything, then I clearly have issues and triggers setting me off, and I’d need to work on those. But just as dangerously, if I don’t respond to anything, have no judgement on anything, then am I even alive, and what would be my purpose for being here?
Funnily enough, when someone now tells me with an air of superiority that I should pick up the mirror rather than have an opinion on anything, that I should just let everything go, judge nothing negatively whatsoever, it’s actually their opinion that I let go of peacefully and authentically. Why? Because by judging me for it, they are doing exactly what they are telling me I shouldn’t be, whilst claiming not to be.